RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
We are in a month that can hardly be thought of without the word madness attached. It all began with the NCAA tournament and its brackets, and now we are crazy in all kinds of ways. This month brings a tournament involving animals, not as mascots, but as competitors. It's Mammal March Madness. A team of evolutionary biologists imagine the results of simulated interspecies battles. Who would win if, say, a kangaroo took on a warthog or an orca fought a polar bear? NPR science reporter Adan Cole got the scoop and this year's bracket.
ADAN COLE, BYLINE: Harvard biology professor Katie Hinde started thinking about Mammal March Madness in 2013 when she saw a post about a tournament of animals on Buzzfeed.
KATIE HINDE: And I was like, oh, this is going to be great. I loved watching the basketball March Madness tournament.
COLE: But she found Buzzfeed's take disappointing.
HINDE: It was only 16 species, right, March Madness is 64. And it was whichever species was the cutest, which was - there's no science to that.
COLE: So she pulled out her encyclopedia of mammals, created her own tournament and posted the bracket online.
HINDE: Over the weekend it blew up.
COLE: So many people got excited about her animal battle royal that Hinde has organized a new tournament every year since. She and three colleagues pick a few dozen species to compete and then they dive deep into the scientific literature to assess their strengths and weaknesses.
HINDE: Their body mass, their fight style, their armor, their weaponry.
COLE: And they use all that information to make up a detailed play-by-play of the entire tournament. All through March they post transcripts of each matchup on Twitter, complete with color commentary about the animals' love lives, favorite foods and human threats to their survival.
HINDE: It's become this incredible vehicle for teaching about conservation.
COLE: Last year, thousands of people filled out brackets, formed betting pools and followed the action. This year's lineup was announced on Tuesday. It's got some heavy hitters, like the elephant seal and a prehistoric beast called a hell pig, but there are some potential Cinderella stories, too. Take the Javan slow loris, an adorable wide-eyed primate.
HINDE: He's a little guy, but he packs a bite.
COLE: The loris coats its teeth with a noxious secretion from glands in its arms.
HINDE: And so when it bites it can actually, in some species, apparently, can cause anaphylactic shock.
COLE: Could that secret weapon give the slow loris an advantage in the first round when it faces the Iberian lynx, a fierce meat-loving predator? That would be an upset for the ages. You can follow the tournament and get your own 2015 Mammal March Madness bracket at NPR's science blog skunkbear.tumblr.com. Adam Cole, NPR News.
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